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Shields & Gigot on Anthony Lake

March 18, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT
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MARGARET WARNER: And for political analysis of Anthony Lake’s withdrawal as nominee for director of Central Intelligence we turn to syndicated columnist Mark Shields and Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot.

Paul, what do you think sunk this nomination?

PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, I don’t think in the end that it had much to do with Tony Lake’s stock portfolio, or what he did or didn’t do in Bosnia, or Alger Hiss. I think it had everything to do–it didn’t even have a lot to do with Tony Lake personally. I think this had everything to do with Bill Clinton and with the way he conducted the campaign, the velocity, the pace, the growing pace of this campaign finance scandal. I mean, the President was asking in the middle of this scandal, which is growing all the time, a revelation every other day, he was asking the Republican Senate to name a member of his White House staff responsible for some of this stuff, to prove him to run an agency responsible for really the intelligence of the United States on China. And Chinese penetration in the White House is part of the story. It was a hard thing for the Republican Senate to do. And I think they were of a mind to say you’re asking us to do too much, Mr. President.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree, Mark?

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist: I think that there’s no question, absent the money story, that the nomination would have been in the different light and would have been a different condition, but I recall Paul saying earlier on the show when we were discussing the Tony Lake nomination there’s a little bit of Cold War payback here; that Republican Senators view Tony Lake as having been on the wrong side of history in the post Vietnam era of the Cold War. And–

MARGARET WARNER: Because he of course withdrew–I mean, he resigned as a member of Kissinger’s staff.

MARK SHIELDS: After the invasion–

MARGARET WARNER: After the invasion of Cambodia.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right, and then supported Sen. Edmund Muskie for President in 1972. I think there was some of that there. And there was a certain irony as you looked at the line-up. I mean, the people who supported Tony Lake–John McCain, the war hero–Bob Kerrey, a war hero–John Glenn, a war hero–John Chafee, a combat veteran–you know, and the cold warriors, the Dick Shelbys of the world who managed to sit out the Cold War, were the ones who wanted to kind of recycle what had been a great issue for conservatives and is gone now. There is nothing more enduring in American politics than an idea that has once won the White House. And Republicans want to revisit that. I don’t think there’s any question that there were serious and legitimate doubts raised about Tony Lake’s management skills. The fact that two of the staff people were informed about Chinese interests and influence in attempts in American politics, and that the word didn’t get to him; that the attorney general couldn’t reach him by the phone. The President, himself, was not informed. So I think the opening was there, but I think the motive may have been pre-existing.

MARGARET WARNER: But it still begs the question, Paul, as the President, himself, said, or he said, he thought Tony Lake could have won this thing, and Lake’s letter said he thought he could have won it. Why did Lake pull the plug? I mean, ultimately it was a decision by him?

PAUL GIGOT: I think what happened, the trigger event, if you will, I think was the story in my newspaper, the “Wall Street Journal,” about this Mr. Tom Roz. And after the other stories that Mark mentioned and the failure to be informed of a couple of things, this was another occasion where he didn’t know. And if you didn’t know running an organization of 150 people, how are you going to run an organization of 10,000, and I think that frankly while Bob Kerrey, Sen. Kerrey, stands up and says about the Republicans this was unfair, I think he was probably when he said that this story was close to disqualifying, those were his exact words, I think Tony Lake got the message yesterday that if even Democrats and the ranking Democrat on that committee was raising doubts, this was probably not going to happen for him.

MARK SHIELDS: There’s no question Sen. Kerrey thought this was serious. When you have foreign interests, foreign influence affecting domestic policy, and the irony of course in this, what we know of the story at this point, Margaret, is the National Security Council behaved well. They tried to keep the sleaze balls out of the White House, and the Democratic National Committee, according to reports in Paul’s newspaper and others appealed to the Central Intelligence Agency to sort of get a stamp of approval, a Good Housekeeping stamp of approval, to get some of these marginal figures into the President’s company.

MARGARET WARNER: And basically did an end run.

MARK SHIELDS: That’s right.

MARGARET WARNER: So what do you think is going to be the political fallout for this in terms of the relationship between the President and the Congress? You saw what the President said this afternoon.

PAUL GIGOT: I don’t think it’ll be enduring, frankly, Margaret. I mean, I think it’s more symbolic of the lack of trust in Washington right now than it will be catalytic of any future problems. I mean, the simple fact of life in Washington now is I think the President is paying a price for how he conducted the campaign and how he won. I mean, with these campaign scandals or the campaign finance scandal developing, we don’t know where it’s going to go. And what that means is that there are a lot of things that could get caught up in the whirlpool. The budget deal may get caught up. This nomination did. And I think that there are probably a few other things that are going to before this is over. And the Republicans believe that he won the White House in 1996 in part because he played fast and loose with the rules. And now they’re going to make him pay a price for that.

MARGARET WARNER: Could the Alexis Herman nomination get caught up in this, Mark, do you think, to be Secretary of Labor, the last outstanding one?

MARK SHIELDS: I don’t think so. I mean, Sen. Shelby, who of course, is the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee and was the principal nemesis of Tony Lake, introduced Alexis Herman, the Secretary of Labor-Designate for her confirmation hearings with a stirring endorsement. She’s a native of Alabama and there he was. I don’t think, quite frankly, it was said before, that any Republican Senator wants to stand up and oppose the lone black woman nominee of this administration to a cabinet level. I do think that this emboldens the Republicans. I don’t think this just happens in a vacuum there. They’re getting Tony Lake’s scalp. I think that that does, in fact, effect and influence. I think it’s a further example of what the 22nd Amendment does. Bill Clinton, just as Ronald Reagan was, was the lame duck in that second term. You know he’s never going to be on the ballot again, and I think that is a factor in this.

MARGARET WARNER: All right. More lame ducks. Thank you both very much.

MARK SHIELDS: Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: Still to come on the NewsHour tonight, the Herman hearings and the confirmation process.